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February 18, 1997

What Is Progress and Development?

by Edmund Tsang

Wayne Curry, president of the Municipal Park Baseball Association, calls the current petition before City Council to build athletic facilities in Municipal Park to support girl's softball "an improvement, not an expansion." The group appeared before the Planning Commission on January 9 to get approval for "construction of a softball field, concession stand, restrooms, press box, 3 batting cages and additional parking," then found out approval can only come from the City Council. On February 4, maps of the facilities and their layout were presented during a public hearing at the City Council meeting.

Curry said the number of children participating in girl's softball is "fixed," and the new facilities are to support those who are currently in the program because there are no girl's softball fields in Mobile.

"The plan is to better utilize the field," Curry added. "The [softball] field is in a property that's already laid out. No trees Will be coming down."

Another goal of the current effort is to "improve the current facilities," Curry said in a telephone interview early this month. "Some of the facilities are kind of rundown. And we are going to add more parking, using space between the fields for parking."

Drawings submitted to the City Council show that the Municipal Park Baseball Association plans to build a new softball field on the southern end of a currently treeless red-dirt area used by athletes and their families for parking. One hundred twenty three parking spaces will be created in the remaining northern end, with another 72 parking spaces created in areas east and south of an adjacent existing softball field for a total of 195 parking spaces (see attached figures).

According to the minutes of the January 9 Planning Commission meeting concerning the Municipal Park Baseball Association's petition, approval requires "all existing parking facilities be improved (paved) at the time the new ballfield is constructed" and "all parking facilities be brought into compliance with the tree planting requirements of the Ordinance." Another requirement is "provision of additional buffering/screening along the South property line through the planting of trees, numbers and species to be approved by the Urban Forester (trees to be planted within one year of construction of the new ballfield)."

David Daughenbaugh of the Urban Forestry Office said the city ordinance for parking requires that the space be paved either with asphalt or concrete and that there be one tree planted for every 20 parking spaces. The trees to be planted must be selected from one of four "understory heritage trees," Daughenbaugh said, which are bradford pear, dogwood, crepe myrtle and red bud.

Daughenbaugh referred questions on tree planting in the buffering zone to Ron Jackson, Urban Forester for the City, who was unavailable by press time.

Curry of the Municipal Park Baseball Association said he is aware of the concerns expressed by some residents of Spring Hill Estates because of their prior experience with Dixie Youth Baseball's effort to add more athletic fields in Municipal Park. Curry said Ron Jackson is arranging a meeting between him and representatives of the neighborhood group.

Curry said Municipal Park Baseball Association is a franchise of Dixie Youth Baseball; he also said Tommy Praytor, who was responsible for the bulldozing of 6 acres of naturally wooded area of municipal Park to add athletic fields for Dixie Youth Baseball, is not involved with Municipal Park Baseball Association's current project. Praytor's 1990 effort turned out badly for Mobile's environment and taxpayers("Softball Battles Nature," The Harbinger, February 2, 1997.) The barren red-dirt field where Curry wants to put the new softball field was a naturally wooded area Until Praytor bulldozed it 1990, and it has remained barren and treeless since.

Sharon Carlton, who was literally awakened by the noise of bulldozer clearing the forested area behind her backyard on Carmel Drive, wants the City Council to pass an ordinance banning further ball park development on the hillside, and to recognize the uniqueness of the natural areas of the park and preserve them for future generations.

Carlton said she has forwarded a list of concerns to Charles Waller, City Council member from her district. The concerns include impacts on the residential neighborhood such as parking, noise, traffic flow, and items of "unfilled commitments from 1991." According to Carlton, a committee appointed by the City Council in 1991 made several recommendations, such as "buffer zone successfully replanted," "oversight committee established," and "546 parking spaces built for 1991 expansion," that still "remain unfilled."

Bill DeMouy, Director of Real Estate Asset and Management for the City of Mobile, told The Harbinger on February 14 that he has been asked by City Council member Charlie Waller to review the l991 report that was produced as a result of Dixie Youth Baseball's actions in expanding athletic facilities in Municipal Park. He is in the process of convening a committee consisting of representatives from the city's land use department, forestry, and parks department, DeMouy said, whose purpose is to come up with a strategy to make sure that recommendations from the 1991 report are followed through and past mistakes are not repeated. DeMouy also said he will then call a meeting with the representatives from the Municipal Park Baseball Association and the neighborhood affected to address a number of issues before the City Council grants approval for the latest expansion of athletic facilities in Municipal Park.

The Harbinger, Mobile, AL